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RoboCop: Rogue City review - clunky old-school fan service

Ambition and delivery clash in an atmospheric shooter
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RoboCop is one of those characters that made a stunning debut in his first movie, before being quickly mishandled and mistreated ever since. The original movie is rightly loved as one of director Paul Verhoven’s finest. It skewered corporate scumbaggery, corrupt politics, private military as law enforcement, and profit over public service, wrapping it all in a splattery package of violence and gleeful immorality.

But what came after vomited on that legacy. RoboCop had a punch up with a Roboape in the early 90s Marvel comics. He flew with a jetpack in the kid-friendly third movie, like a chubby Iron Man. There was a forgettable TV series. Let’s not even mention the movie remake. And apart from Brobocop in Broforce, there aren’t any games to recommend that didn’t spend too much money on the licence and not enough time on everything else.

RoboCop: Rogue City finally gets it. It does a great job capturing the spirit of the original movie, and it’s more than just window dressing. Developer Teyon pays real tribute to the atmosphere of RoboCop, while it delivers a decent fantasy of role-playing part man, part machine. From the ultra violence and gunplay, to the dialogue, glib one-liners, and smart sidekicks, there’s a real sense of trying to do right in a world where the bad guys have pretty much won already.

The atmosphere is the strongest part of Rogue City. Original RoboCop actor Peter Weller has returned to lend his voice and face to RoboCop, previously officer Alex Murphy before he got blasted apart and rebuilt as the new automated war on crime. The likenesses of Murphy’s buddy Lewis and Sargeant Reed also help to recreate the movie illusion, with the story delving into Murphy’s history almost immediately. The streets and warehouses of Detroit are as filthy and broken as you remember them, the soulless corporate offices are cold, the police station a grubby sanctuary full of exasperated cops and citizens trying their luck. It’s never a high-budget glossy experience, but it doesn’t actually need to be - neither was the original movie - in this respect Rogue City is more than the sum of its parts.

Gameplay is split into two distinct features, both played out in the same wide-open levels. You gather evidence of crimes with simple tricks and through multiple dialogue options, taking on a few side-missions if you want to. And then you pull out your Auto-9 gun and let rip on punks, shredding enemies, tossing monitors at them, spraying the walls with blood and bullets.

The combat is fun to begin with, but it only really moves at one pace. That’s entirely appropriate for RoboCop, but it conveniently also covers up some of the game’s shortcomings. This is an old-school first-person shooter. There’s no mantling or cover system, and no ducking down. There’s barely a sprint. Even when he moves fast, RoboCop is just naturally slow. That can be explained away because RoboCop isn’t a fleet footed athlete. He’s a chonk. He’s fearless and stomps into gunfire knowing he’s practically bulletproof. He methodically approaches violence in the same way he methodically collects evidence before applying for a warrant.

Dead or alive, you're coming with me. Mostly dead, tbh.

Dead or alive, you're coming with me. Mostly dead, tbh.

But that can also mean you’ll trudge through a warehouse eliminating enemies, and then have to slog back the exact way you came. You can’t just hop over a railing to the floor below. Getting hit with incoming fire? You’ll need to walk behind a pillar, or back out of a room. It feels clunky, which is the point, but it also feels like the past 10 years of first-person shooters didn’t happen. You’ll need to get used to it.

Gunplay can be a real thrill though. Enemies head’s burst, plaster turns to dust, blood sprays, glass shatters, furniture explodes. This is when it’s at its best. With a lite-RPG system, you can build up perks, ricochet shots, deflect bullets back at enemies and slow down time to cause more damage. Again, it does a great job of making you feel like RoboCop - almost invincible.

But then the game struggles with its own rules. There’s an inordinate amount of grenade spam because bullets do little damage. It also gives you one of the best weapons from the off, so needs to artificially ramp up the danger. The Auto-9 pistol comes with a 50-round clip, infinite ammo and its three-burst shot will take someone’s head clean off. In the early game at least, there feels little point in picking up discarded AK-47s and Uzis unless you just want to try them for something else to do. The Auto-9 can also be upgraded via chips and a circuit board mini-game to make it more lethal, which Teyon tries to counter by throwing different but basic enemy types at you. That’s when the game starts to come apart.

Peter Weller's voice and face help recreate the original movie atmosphere.

Peter Weller's voice and face help recreate the original movie atmosphere.

You’ll come across punks with armored helmets, idiots who rush you carrying explosives, grenade launchers barely visible in the distance, annoying bikers that circle you, and dudes calling in reinforcements that feel a lot like respawning enemies. There’s a lack of refinement in their actions and intelligence, and that continues as you go up against even tougher enemies in the late game. They start to feel like blunt solutions and cheap shots to chip away at your health. Some don’t work at all, like the hilarious enemy who rushes you swinging a sledgehammer, but can easily be grabbed and thrown across a quarry like discarded litter. Some of these complaints are easily forgotten when you detach a heavy machinegun and gleefully turn punks into paste. Others are exasperated by RoboCop being unable to step over an obstacle that’s less than knee high, or to squat behind logical cover. It can feel like you have to accept taking a beating just to reach the end of a level, by which point the fun has been steadily sapped away.

The evidence gathering and interactions with the people of Detroit is handled well, and doesn’t overstay its welcome when you need to quiz suspects or investigate a crime scene. Scan enough clues or pick up the right intel and you can avoid conflict in some situations, and there’s plenty of opportunity to apply RoboCop’s three prime directives in your dialogue choices; serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. You’ll also want to pick up every scrap of evidence you can find, because Rogue City isn’t very generous with the experience points. That can feel like a chore when you’re in the middle of a firefight. Asking Robocop to grab a stolen watch while grenades rain down on him is like driving a tank but asking him to stop and pick up a loaf of bread on the way.

Aim of the head or nuts for maximum carnage.

Aim of the head or nuts for maximum carnage.

Interactions with the people of Detroit can be fun as you deal with petty crime and nuisance behaviour. Noisy punks get a fist through their boombox, puking Nuke addicts give up clues, desperate citizens confess they’re just trying to get by in a system that considers them an inconvenience at best, collateral damage at worst. The dialogue is suitably deadpan, cynics are looking after number one, everyone is pissed off and mad about it. Delivery is stiff, as flat as the characters of Starfield, and there’s a weird loading pause before conversations that begins to nudge the experience a little too close to ponderous. But largely it’s an interesting diversion in between the ultraviolence and adds depth to the storyline and atmosphere.

There’s no escaping that RoboCop has a budget feel. You’re never far from a reminder that this isn’t a triple A experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it’s clearly a game that has been created by a team who love and understand the source material. But half way through the cracks are clear, the ambition reaching beyond places the execution struggles to deliver. A lack of refinement and polish leaves RoboCop stuttering with malfunctions. For all its good intentions there really is a ghost in the machine.

Score - 6/10

  • Graphics: 7/10
  • Sound: 6/10
  • Combat: 5/10
  • Story: 7/10

Version tested: Xbox Series S

RoboCop: Rogue City performance breakdown

Unfortunately Rogue City begins to malfunction almost as often as RoboCop himself. The framerate stutters on Xbox Series S, audio drops in and out, and textures pop in and out during cutscenes. I had one enemy, clearly dead, just stand bolt upright in the middle of the room. It's not really a showcase for Unreal Engine 5 on console.